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Posts Tagged ‘cooking school’

An update is long overdue, I know. I’ve been so exhausted and sometimes the thought of catching everyone up on my comings and goings at school overwhelms me and I take a nap instead. (Shrug) Don’t judge me.

My friend, Joy, who is visiting, laid on the guilt today (“I’M TELLING ALL MY FRIENDS ABOUT YOUR BLOG SO YOU BETTER UPDATE IT IT!”) so I guess I better post to shut her up.

Here are some highlights:

The first of two fish days was rough for me. Nothing actually went terribly wrong. Our bass en papillote (cooked in a sealed paper package) puffed up perfectly and was cooked properly and the caper, lemon, butter sauce over our fried trout was well seasoned, but there was always something. The plates we served the bass on weren’t hot enough. (HOT FOOD, HOT PLATE!) The croutons on our trout were just a shade too brown. Coupled with what felt like Chef M. picking on me all day, I had one of those days that I had to will myself not to burst into tears out of frustration.

It sounds a little melodramatic, I know, but when you’ve been sweating and running around and slicing your fingers open over a boiling hot stove, a dark crouton feels like a big deal. So before I go completely mental, I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that most of the time, especially at this stage of schooling, there will be something. The point is to minimize the somethings to the best of my ability. FINE…moving on.

The second fish day I learned how to clean a fish from top to bottom, snipping off the fins, scaling it, removing guts, and filleting. I got an eye full of scales (painful) and kept commenting on how smelly other people were in line at the bank before I realized that it was me…

Another noteworthy day was shellfish day, very dramatic and easily one of the most luxurious days I’ve had at school. I KILLED A LOBSTER! WITH MY BARE HANDS! Well, my hands and a giant chef’s knife. Chef M. kindly gave us the option of killing our lunch one of two ways: dumping it in a broth and covering it with a lid (nice and clean, like an assassin’s work) or plunging a knife into the back of the moving, live lobster’s head and then bring the edge of the knife through its head (messy and intimate, like a crime of passion). The head wasn’t difficult, but the body was a little tougher as the lobster was still feistily moving and curling its tail and I was attempting to chop it in half. Then when I finally did succeed in dividing the corpse in half, it, um, kept moving. Like, a lot. Like, even with the two halves were on opposite ends of my chopping board. Weird.

Last Friday was my most successful day yet. The first day that all my dishes passed with no criticism and no real criticism while I was working either. I learned how to quarter a chicken and remove the breasts and legs from a duck. With no time to eat, I ended up bringing the lot home and serving it with rice pilaf for dinner. Economical AND easy!

Okay, I’m sleepy now and have to get up early in the morning. I’ll write more tomorrow. I promise.

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A few months ago, my sister stumbled upon a description of a class at the Institute of Culinary Education (aka ICE) that, for my birthday, she registered me for, “Culinary Career Exploration Day,” an eight hour day full of lectures and a professional-style cooking class all aimed at helping the hapless and career-confused decide if culinary school or any career in the culinary industry is right for them. Absolutely perfect for me, right?

The day was fascinating and seemed to pass in a flash and while I was exhausted at the end of the day, it wasn’t exhaustion from meetings or reporting to bosses (or, worse yet, the gym). It was blissful exhaustion from demonstrations of ideal knife skills, learning how to stuff a chicken breast with goat cheese, and learning that you can actually make money in the food industry.

The cooking portion was taught by Chef Karen Schley, an affable, easy going, articulate chef who is an actual instructor at ICE. Before donning our aprons Chef Karen pointed out to us the increased interest in the food industry in the past twenty years due to celebrity chefs, the Food Network, and reality television shows like Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen. She asserted that those aspects of being a chef (fame, fortune, psychotically abusive little English men) are a tiny percentage of the realities of the food industry. She then went on to emphasize hygiene in the kitchen and keeping your cutting board/station clean (“always think of sushi chefs,” she said).

It took the dozen of us approximately four hours to prep and make a mixed salad with tomato concassé (peeled and seeded little tomato cubes) and sliced cucumbers with a basic vinaigrette, a breaded chicken breast stuffed with herb goat cheese, roasted vegetables (cauliflower, parsnips, potatoes, asparagus), and a rice pilaf (fancier word for fluffy rice with onions). I have to admit, my knife skills were pretty kick ass, but I still despise making rice.

All fun and self-discovery aside, the class was one giant publicity/orientation event for ICE, but that was to be expected. At one point, when we had sat down in the kitchen at a white clothed table to enjoy the fruits of our labor for lunch, the associate director of admissions joined us and made sure none of us walked out the door without her card and without our goody bags which, among other things, included brochures about successful ICE alums and how to apply.

The management lecture portion after lunch was led by Steve Zagor, the head of ICE’s culinary management diploma program. He was a funny, slightly awkward, but clearly very experienced “restaurant guy.” He rattled off his credentials, which included stints as a big time restaurant consultant for PriceWaterhouse Cooper, owning several restaurants, and teaching marketing and finance at NYU’s well-known food and nutrition program. He went through hot food trends in NYC in the food world (diners, locally grown produce, cupcakes, Asian fusion, etc.), as well as important aspects of the American demographic today (the average age of Americans is getting older, families go where children are welcome).

I loved every minute of it and am now more conflicted than ever. I had written culinary school off, saying, “absolutely not, never,” but now I’m not so sure. I experienced this inner turmoil to some degree when I visited the Culinary Institute of America, but it seemed so unattainable that it was easy to push the notion out of my mind. The fantasy of going to school to cook all day and study food all night thrills me though. For me, there is nothing about that that does not appeal to me.¬† So where to go from here? I’m not sure. Sigh.

I wish I had never gone.

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